Today, for the first time in more than 130 years, May Day will be celebrated around the world online instead of in the streets. Global unions and the international news organization LabourStart welcome everyone to join their virtual 12-hour celebration. Labour reporters with the NB Media Co-op will be viewing the online broadcast with labour reporters, workers and union activists around the globe. In Atlantic Canada, the event is live from 4am to 4pm today at this link:
Today, millions of workers who would normally participate at May Day events outside and in community and union halls around the world are under lockdown. Using Vimeo and Facebook live-streaming, Virtual May Day will allow unions globally to express their solidarity with each other but especially with those engaged in current struggles for workers’ rights.
The history of May Day goes back to 1886 in the US, when more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses walked off their jobs to demand the right to work an 8-hour day. Since then the first day of May has been an occasion for workers and unions everywhere to celebrate their achievements.
“This year, of course, workers face unprecedented challenges associated with the COVID-19 crisis,” said LabourStart editor Eric Lee, based in London, UK. “Celebrating May Day with our usual rallies and marches, as we have done for 130 years, is now impossible. But to pass on May Day this year of all years would be a tragedy. We need all the solidarity and strength that we can give each other.”
The Canadian LabourStart coordinator Derek Blackadder, based in Ontario, has been working with Lee in the UK and others to prepare the content for the 12-hour virtual event. The broadcast schedule includes both recorded videos with workers and live commentary from union leaders in many different countries including Canada, and across the European Union, Latin America and Asia.
During the year, Blackadder coordinates a Canadian team of about 20 correspondents across the country who submit stories to the LabourStart website. LabourStart is the global trade union movement’s online news and campaigns service. Its network of more than 900 volunteers around the world collects hundreds of union news stories each day, in 35 languages. It runs online campaigns for trade unions in defence of workers and labour rights.
In an interview with the NB Media Co-op, Blackadder said that when he began with LabourStart about 20 years ago, most of the major papers and the regional television and radio outlets in Canada had labour or workplace reporters. “Now all those positions are gone,” he said, except for one reporter at the Toronto Star.
All the NB Media Co-op labour stories are posted on the global LabourStart network. Most recently, this included coverage of struggles by the CUPE 508 workers in Fredericton, CUPE 4193 workers in Allardville, nursing home workers and other caregivers, and of migrant workers, and others.
Blackadder, who lived in Fredericton about five years ago when he was regional director for CUPE, said that the Virtual May Day event has never been done before and “we’re learning as we go along.” The team received 800 submissions in their short preparation period and reviewed them for inclusion in the 12 hours of programming.
He said that although Virtual May Day allows for a broader program of events with a global reach, “this is a shallow form of solidarity compared with a rally, a picket or a march.” Although having May Day online is not an alternative to being out in the streets, “it can remind people that it’s not just hospital cleaners in Ontario,” for example, that are working in hazardous conditions, “but also hospital cleaners in BC, in China,” and many other countries.
Although it is too early to tell what the impact of the COVID-19 crisis will have on workers globally, Blackadder notes that exploited workers in many countries are suddenly being handed wage increases without fighting for them. They are realizing that they are not alone, “that workers around the globe are in the same situation. They are realizing that they have power.” What they do with that power is unknown. “The next few years will be interesting,” Blackadder added.
Virtual May Day is supported by the International Trade Union Confederation, the largest global federation of trade unions, representing 207 million workers in 163 countries. The ITUC’s primary mission is the promotion and defence of workers’ rights and interests, through international cooperation between trade unions, global campaigning and advocacy within the major global institutions.
In addition, the Virtual May Day project is being supported by other global union federations, including Building and Woodworkers International, Education International, IndustriALL, the International Federation of Journalists, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the International Union of Foodworkers, Public Services International, and UNI Global Union.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board and a LabourStart correspondent for New Brunswick